–Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
During the 2007 US election, when the issue of climate change was getting little to no attention by political candidates, writer and activist Bill McKibben (“End of Nature”) decided it was time to intervene. He and a tiny team of campaigners launched and ran the “Step it Up” campaign with 1400 step it up events around the country in 50 US states. The results were impressive: both Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton agreed to campaign positions to cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.
After the election, Copenhagen loomed. Those in the know felt that this was the global window of opportunity to get a new treaty that was binding, fair and would help to lower emissions to a figure in line with what expert scientists were calling for: 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide.
McKibben and his team latched onto the idea to use 350 as a rallying cry for three reasons.
First, those who didn’t know would have to ask “what is 350?” and find out more about the science of climate change. Second, it provided a yardstick by which people the world over could judge not only the outcome of their own country’s efforts on climate change but that of upcoming United Nations Copenhagen meeting. Finally, 350 was short, understandable in any language and could be used for a visual expression in any number of creative ways.
350.org, and a Global Day of Climate Action, was born.
McKibben took to travelling around the world to promote the idea in mid-2008 with a simple message – create your own 350 event, image, rally, talk, artistic display, whatever suited your or your group or community’s idea of how to express your concern about climate change. He particularly focused on non-English language countries such as the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia. Wherever he went, he was amazed at the level of interest. It seemed the world was ready for a global event that they be part of on climate change.
The 350.org approach was unique – it was not top down or controlled, anyone could take part, use the logo, set up 350 offices, talk to politicians as 350.org and coordinate with local organisations to help spread the word and expand the size and reach of the Global Day of Climate Action. A website was set up to provide ideas, action kits, information and networking information.
In Australia, 350.org was officially established, with some funding and a plan to hold an event on the steps of the Sydney Opera House, six months before the big international day – 24 October 2009. At that time, more than 25 other events were already registered on the international 350.org site across the country.
As 24 October approached, preparations reached fever pitch. The US team – a mere six people to look after hundreds of 350 offshoots around the world – were working to ensure 350.org events would be held at the world’s most iconic locations, preparing press materials, organising how photos and video from events could be uploaded and available to media as they happened and to try to ensure people around the world had heard of 350 before the big day.
No one could have predicted the success of the 350 Global Day of Climate Action. Three days before the day, 350 events were planned for 176 countries around the world. A global push began to try for an event in all of the world’s 195 countries. We came remarkably close!
On the day, 5200 events in 181 countries worked to send the 350 message to world leaders calling for significant action on the climate change. CNN termed the event “the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history.” Some 24,000 images were uploaded to 350.org’s flickr page. It makes for amazing viewing.
Events took place in Namibia and Djabouti, China and India, Iran and Kazakhstan and the Philippines and Costa Rica and from the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall of China to Times Square and the Ishtar Gate in Babylon.
Australians took up the 350 day with gusto. More than 240 events took place in every state and territory and some 10,000 people participated. From handmade quilts made by groups in country New South Wales and Victoria and bike rides across Melbourne to 350 frisbees being tossed simultaneously in Brisbane and new high-tide markers being placed in Darwin, nationally we contributed some of the most beautiful and compelling event images in the world.
One of the goals of the Oct. 24 day of action was simply to record events, to have tangible evidence that a broad, diverse subset of the planet’s citizens consider global climate change a threat, and that they want action.
Among the photos posted on the 350 site were shots from underwater at the Great Barrier Reef — which could be dead within 50 years if warming trends continue – and a Maldives cabinet meeting chaired by President Mohamed Nasheed underwater.
“Clearly, one of the things we discovered [on Oct. 24] is that there’s a global appetite for working on this,” said 350.org’s Bill McKibben. “It’s important to figure out how to harness that power and to put it to use against the great powers. Ideas of all kinds are more thanwelcome; this is an ongoing conversation.”
350.org, and organisations such as Tck Tck Tck and as well as film-makers/promoters of the climate change film “The Age of Stupid” have changed the face of issues campaigning in a number of ways. These initiatives are international, participatory and inclusive of a broad range of divergent not-for-profits and hands off, allowing participants to choose how they want to be involved.
While the outcome of the current UN Copenhagen meeting looks bleak, the future of public activism is looking brighter than ever. As more and more international issues requiring global regulation arise, this may play an important role in pressuring world leaders to deliver the kind of treaties required for the best possible global outcome.
To see photos from the 350 Global Day of Climate Action, see:
Photos of recent 350 Copenhagen vigils around the world can be seen at: www.350.org.